Dear Ph.D listers:
Before getting on to the message, donīt we need Gibson-for-designers conference? I am busy preparing my little event on aesthetics in September at the Design School in Kolding, Denmark (itīs not too late to send in a text!) so I canīt do it right away but maybe Sept 2019? Itīs just an idle thought.
Back to the discussion...
Thanks to Heidi for that excellent run-down of some of the issues. I think that you are better placed to write that Gibson review than I am.
I will fillet some of the parts I am competent to respond to. I am very determined to keep my interest in Gibsonīs work connected to what a practicing designer rather than a design researcher would be concerned. Thatīs why I am looking at aesthetics as in the form of the designed object and its impact on the user.
The question of representation inside the brain can be dodged by viewing the system as something like an algorithm: put in data on one side and a number comes out the other. The algorithm doesnīt know anything about numbers. I donīt see memory (which is a conscious thing) being part of our sensory analytical apparatus. Sure, we do later reflect on what we see but memory doesn`t get involved in, say, interpretting dots as groups or affordnces in the environment. That said, those "algorithmic" process are doing something on a routine basis when confronted by shapes. The conscious mind only witnesses the result: "gosh, that circle near the horizon must be huge".
"James J. Gibson offered a different reason for why the classical processing model cannot be true, based the slow speed of of nerve impulse transmission inside the body. Working with the military during WWII, Gibson noted pilots landing airplanes on aircraft carriers as an illustration of the complexity, speed, and precision of linked perception/action. This happens too fast to allow slow nerve impulses to reach the brain, get processed, and send back instructions. Something else must be going on," wrote Heidi. I think the impulses do go from eye to brain and back to action - the person experiencing all that is only partially in control just as one is only partially in control of how you see. Thatīs really more a problem for cognitive psychologists than designers.
"Gibson's concept of "affordance" proposed that the perception of the world does not demand mental processing, because creatures perceive meaning directly. There is no collection "data" to be cognitively processed into "information" - information itself is the essential thing that is perceived. To a simple creature, meaningfulness will involve physical opportunities: affordances like "eatable" or "climbable." To a complex creature, like a person, more complex affordances become apparent, so that if the ball is "catchable" then the game is "winnable" (Pols, 2012). Gibson's proposal seems logically defensible; as Luxembourge notes in his thesis, and Norman in his most recent message, understanding the world must be the reason why perception evolved in the first place, to give survival advantage. No cognitive processing is needed for an ameoba to notice something edible nearby," wrote Heidi. I think there might be a misunderstanding of terms. When I discuss "data" being processed into "information" I refer to visual stimuli (all the bits of light and colour) and the "information" is what the subject decides they have seen as in "that looks like a moving train". They have no idea how their brain turned the bits of light and colour into the apparently dead obvious train. The meaning of the bits of light and colour is "train" which is information for the conscious mind. It has facts where initially was the bits of light and colour.
"If we step back from the concept of affordances, what Gibson's thesis seems to imply is that the "ontological primitive" of perception is located not in the characteristics of an item being perceived, or in the mind of the entity doing the perceiving, but rather consists of the emergent relationship between the two." I have a hard time with this part. It implies thereīs nothing out there until someone sees it. Perception takes place in a mind, not at the object or on the way to the object. For this reason I donīt view perception as a phenomenon enclosing the observer and the observed.
"The brilliance of Gibson's holistic approach may be appreciated by comparing it to the designerly heritage of Modernism, and its essential approach of "ontological discontinuity." As American teacher William Everdell points out, Modernism in all fields adopted a dividing approach to knowledge: separating whole things into their parts, and then studying the parts, in isolation, as a way to gain understand the whole. This approach has proved enduring; as Everdell wrote: "We cannot help seeing theobjects of our knowledge as discrete and discontinuous - digital ratherthan analogue" (1997, p. 351). Modernist discontinuous analysis has achieved outstanding success in many areas. In chemistry, understanding of the structure of the atom explains the behaviour of metals, and the operations of bio-chemistry, leading to the operations of living cells (though difficulty remains in understanding how the the atom explains the existence of the giraffe).
In art, Modernist fracturing of wholes into parts can be seen in movements like De Stijl and Cubism, and also, more importantly, in the curriculum of the Bauhaus. Still taught today in design schools, the Bauhaus approach sets up first-year exercises using a restricted range of elements like squares and circles. Manipulation of these elements is understood to reveal entirely abstract "principles" of "visual language" that are expected to inform eventual higher-year production of meaning." For "Modernist" I would use the word "reductionist".
"But as Herriot observes, explorations of dots and lines do not translate easily into real design impact."
I have not had a hard time finding examples of applicatios of Gestalt concepts in 3D. Itīs Gibson thatīs proving tricky.
"Consider the angle of a line defined by two data points on a graph. No matter how well you understand both or either of the points examined separately, that understanding will not reveal the higher-order perception of the line, which emerges out of the relationship between the two. This may be Gibson's essential point for designers; suggesting that the goal of design is no more or less than the design of emergent characteristics, for which the designer must look not just at the artifact, and not just at the user, but at the relationship between them. That relationship is the subject of design; and all of the problems with design can be traced to bad definitions of it." My aim is to highlight the particular things a designer should and should not do to achieve a certain relationship between the object and the user. Although my interest is in the designed object it is because certain forms appear more satisfactory than others and so achieve a preferable state of mind in the observer.
Thanks to Prue Bramwell-Davis for that contribution. Referring to this bit:
"Smets observes that Gibson's concept of perception as ecological rather than individual enables design to shift the connection between function and form to function as behaviour and usage"
It seems to me that only restates the problem in other terms. The user has the behaviour and the object gets used. It still has a form. Addressing the behaviour and usage does not allow one to dodge the fact the object has to have a form to cause behaviour and to allow usage.
Gunnar queried this from Yoad: " You cannot remain in gestalt theory when approaching design." Maybe the remark is easier to take if it was intended to read
" You cannot remain only in gestalt theory when approaching design."
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